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Rogasciano Santiago v. E.W. Bliss Company et al

August 9, 2012

ROGASCIANO SANTIAGO,
APPELLANT,
v.
E.W. BLISS COMPANY ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Kilbride

CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justice Karmeier specially concurred, with opinion.

Justice Burke specially concurred, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.

Justice Thomas dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Garman.

Justice Theis took no part in the decision.

OPINION

¶ 1 This appeal is from the appellate court's opinion on a certified question pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010), following the circuit court's interlocutory order denying defendants' motion to dismiss. The certified question focuses on two issues. The first issue is whether the circuit court "should" dismiss an injured*fn1 plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice as a sanction for intentionally*fn2 filing a complaint using a fictitious name without leave of the court pursuant to section 2-401(e) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-401(e) (West 2008)). The second issue is whether the circuit court "should" dismiss the injured plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice because the plaintiff's amended complaint, with the plaintiff's correct name, does not relate back to the initial filing.

¶ 2 The appellate court answered the first part of the certified question in the affirmative, with qualifications, and the second part in the affirmative. Specifically, the appellate court held: (1) the circuit court has discretion to dismiss the plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice as a sanction, and (2) the circuit court must dismiss the plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice "because the original complaint is a nullity, the limitations period has expired, and the amended complaint cannot relate back to the initial filing." 406 Ill. App. 3d 449, 466.

¶ 3 We answer the first part of the certified question and hold that the circuit court has discretion, as a matter of law, to dismiss a complaint with prejudice when brought by a plaintiff using a fictitious name without leave of the court and that dismissal is neither mandatory nor precluded under those circumstances. However, dismissal is justified only when (1) there is a clear record of willful conduct showing deliberate and continuing disregard for the court's authority; and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party. We answer the second part of the certified question in the negative and hold that when an injured plaintiff files a complaint using a fictitious name, without court approval, the original complaint is not a nullity, per se, and an amended complaint correcting the plaintiff's name may relate back to the initial filing pursuant to section 2-616(b) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-616(b) (West 2008)). Accordingly, the appellate court judgment is reversed in part and the cause is remanded to the circuit court of Cook County for further proceedings.

¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 5 On May 12, 2006, plaintiff suffered severe injuries while operating a punch press for his employer, Assembled Products. On May 9, 2008, plaintiff filed a product liability complaint against the original defendants in the circuit court of Cook County. The complaint identified plaintiff as "Juan Ortiz," the name he was known by at his employment. Plaintiff was allowed to file a first amended complaint on November 12, 2008, naming additional defendants identified during discovery. The first amended complaint identified the plaintiff as "Juan Ortiz." Plaintiff also identified himself as "Juan Ortiz" in written discovery documents.

¶ 6 Defendants deposed plaintiff on May 19, 2009. When defendants asked plaintiff to state his full name, plaintiff responded that his birth name was "Rogasciano Santiago," but that he had also used the name "Juan Ortiz."

¶ 7 On May 26, 2009, and again on June 2, 2009, plaintiff sought leave of the court to file a second amended complaint to add the name "Rogasciano Santiago" as plaintiff's birth name. The circuit court allowed plaintiff to file his second amended complaint on September 18, 2009, over defendants' objections. The second amended complaint identified plaintiff as "Rogasciano Santiago, f/k/a Juan Ortiz." The circuit court also granted defendants leave to take an additional deposition of the plaintiff and conduct any additional discovery defendants deemed necessary.

¶ 8 Defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's cause of action.

Defendants argued that plaintiff committed a fraud on the court and that the cause should be dismissed with prejudice as a sanction. Alternatively, defendants argued that plaintiff's original complaint was null and void as a matter of law because it was not filed in plaintiff's real name. Thus, according to defendants, the second amended complaint did not relate back and was barred by the statute of limitations.

¶ 9 The circuit court denied defendants' motion to dismiss. The circuit court certified the question to the appellate court, presenting two issues: (1) whether the circuit court should dismiss plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice as a sanction for filing a complaint using a fictitious name without leave of court pursuant to section 2-401 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-401 (West 2008)); and (2) whether the circuit court should dismiss the cause of action with prejudice because the original complaint is a nullity, the limitations period has expired, and the amended complaint cannot relate back to the initial filing.

¶ 10 The appellate court held that, "when an injured plaintiff intentionally files a complaint using a fictitious name, without leave of court to use the fictitious name pursuant to section 2-401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-401 (West 2008)), the circuit court may, in its sound discretion, dismiss the complaint with prejudice as a sanction." 406 Ill. App. 3d at 463. The appellate court further held that, "when an injured plaintiff intentionally files a complaint using a fictitious name, without leave of court to use the fictitious name pursuant to section 2-401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-401 (West 2008)), then subsequent to the expiration of the statute of limitations, files an amended complaint with the correct plaintiff's name, the circuit court must dismiss the cause with prejudice on the motion of a defendant because the original complaint is a nullity, the limitations period has expired, and the amended complaint cannot relate back to the initial filing." 406 Ill. App. 3d at 466. We allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal.

Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010).

¶ 11 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 12 This appeal arose from a certified question pursuant to Supreme

Court Rule 308 following the circuit court's interlocutory order denying defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's cause of action. Rule 308 authorizes the appellate court to allow appeal from an interlocutory order not otherwise appealable when an application for leave to appeal is filed and the trial court has found that: (1) the "order involves a question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion" and (2) "an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation." Ill. S. Ct. R. 308 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). "To qualify for an interlocutory appeal under Supreme Court Rule 308 [citation], a certified question must present an issue of law that is reviewable de novo." Solon v. Midwest Medical Records Ass'n, 236 Ill. 2d 433, 439 (2010).

¶ 13 The circuit court certified the following question to the appellate court:

"When an injured plaintiff intentionally files a complaint using a fictitious name, without leave of court to use the fictitious name pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-401, then subsequent to the expiration of the statute of limitations, files an amended complaint with the plaintiff's correct name, should the court dismiss the cause with prejudice on the motion of a defendant as a sanction or because the limitations period has expired and the amended complaint does not relate back to the initial filing?"

¶ 14 A. Sanctions

¶ 15 The first issue expressly presented in this certified question is whether a circuit court should dismiss a plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice as a sanction when a plaintiff intentionally filed a complaint using a fictitious name without court approval pursuant to section 2-401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-401 (West 2008)). Initially, we must comment that the certified question is inartfully crafted. The question could be read as raising any of the following issues: (1) whether the trial court may dismiss with prejudice as a sanction for filing a complaint using a fictitious name without court approval; (2) whether dismissal with prejudice is mandatory; or (3) whether the trial court is precluded from such a sanction. At the heart of each of these questions is the existence and scope of the court's authority to dismiss a complaint with prejudice as a sanction.

¶ 16 We find Sander v. Dow Chemical Co., 166 Ill. 2d 48 (1995), instructive on this issue. In Sander, this court acknowledged that a trial court may, in appropriate situations, dismiss a complaint with prejudice. That power derives from both Supreme Court Rule 219(c)

(Ill. S. Ct. R. 219(c) (eff. July 1, 2002)) and from the trial court's inherent authority to control its docket. Sander, 166 Ill. 2d at 65. In Sander, we deemed the recognition of the court's inherent authority to be "necessary" to "prevent undue delays in the disposition of cases caused by abuses of procedural rules, and also to empower courts to control their dockets." Sander, 166 Ill. 2d at 66. We further acknowledged a court's power to dismiss a complaint with prejudice "where the record shows deliberate and continuing disregard for the court's authority." Sander, 166 Ill. 2d at 67. While the trial court's power to dismiss a complaint as a sanction was recognized in Sander, this court also warned that dismissal of a cause of action is a "drastic" sanction that "should only be employed where it appears that all other enforcement efforts of the court have failed to advance the litigation." Sander, 166 Ill. 2d at 67-68.

¶ 17 While Sander does not address the precise question raised by the certified question in this case, the same principles relied upon in Sander were applied by the court in Zocaras v. Castro, 465 F.3d 479 (11th Cir. 2006). We find Zocaras, 465 F.3d 479, particularly persuasive. In Zocaras, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit articulated a two-part analysis for determining when an action may be dismissed as a sanction. The court held that, first, there must be a "clear record of willful conduct" on the part of the dismissed party. Zocaras, 465 F.3d at 483. Second, there must also be a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate. Zocaras, 465 F.3d at 483. Both of these notions are consistent with this court's pronouncements in Sander.

¶ 18 In Zocaras, the Eleventh Circuit, in determining whether there was a clear record of willful conduct on the part of the dismissed plaintiff, relied heavily on the findings of fact made by the district court judge once the plaintiff's use of a false name came to light. At the district court hearing, the plaintiff, who had used several different aliases, answered some questions regarding the use of his real name and then asserted his fifth amendment right as to additional questions. Based on testimony from the hearing, the district court found that the plaintiff's conduct was deliberate and willful and was not a mistake. The court of appeals relied on these extensive findings, included in the appendix to its opinion, and found no error on the part of the district judge in dismissing the plaintiff's cause of action.

¶ 19 The court of appeals noted the second requirement that lesser sanctions are inadequate encompasses two distinct areas-harm to the judicial system and harm to the other party's interests. Zocaras, 465 F.3d at 484-85. The court of appeals agreed with the district court's findings that both the judicial system and the opposing party were harmed by the plaintiff's willful conduct.

¶ 20 Zocaras is consistent with the views expressed by this court in Sander. We therefore answer the certified question as follows. The circuit court has discretion, as a matter of law, to dismiss a complaint with prejudice when brought by a plaintiff using a fictitious name without leave of the court. Dismissal is neither mandatory nor precluded under those circumstances. Dismissal is justified only when

(1) there is a clear record of willful conduct showing deliberate and continuing disregard for the court's authority; and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party.

¶ 21 Here, the circuit court denied defendants' motion to dismiss and we are without the benefit of the court's rationale. Accordingly, we vacate the circuit court's order denying defendants' motion to dismiss and remand the cause to the circuit court with directions to conduct a new hearing to determine whether dismissal of plaintiff's cause of action as a sanction is appropriate under the substantive standards articulated in this opinion.

¶ 22 B. Relation-Back Doctrine

¶ 23 The second part of the certified question is whether the circuit court should dismiss the injured plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice because the plaintiff's amended complaint, with the plaintiff's correct name, does not relate back to the initial filing. Amendments to pleadings are governed by section 2-616 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-616 (West 2010)). Section 2-616(a) provides, in relevant part:

"At any time before final judgment amendments may be allowed on just and reasonable terms, introducing any party who ought to have been joined as plaintiff or defendant, dismissing any party, changing the cause of action or defense or adding new causes of action or defenses, and in any matter, either of form or substance, in any process, pleading, bill of particulars or proceedings, which may enable the plaintiff to sustain the claim for which it was intended to be brought or the defendant to make a defense or assert a cross claim." (Emphases added.) 735 ILCS 5/2-616(a) (West 2010).

¶ 24 Section 2-616(b), in turn, provides for relation back of the amended pleading to the original pleading, as follows:

"The cause of action *** set up in any amended pleading shall not be barred by lapse of time under any statute or contract prescribing or limiting the time within which an action may be brought or right asserted, if the time prescribed or limited had not expired when the original pleading was filed, and if it shall appear from the original and amended pleadings that the cause of action asserted *** in the amended pleading grew out of the same transaction or occurrence set up in the original pleading, even though the original pleading was defective in that it failed to allege *** the existence of some fact *** an amendment to any pleading shall be held to relate back to the date of the filing of the original pleading so amended." (Emphasis added.) 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b) (West 2010).

ΒΆ 25 The purpose of the relation-back provision of section 2-616(b) is to preserve causes of action against loss due to technical pleading rules. Boatmen's National Bank of Belleville v. Direct Lines, Inc., 167 Ill. 2d 88, 102 (1995). In construing the relation-back provision of section 2-616(b), this court has stated that the requirements of section should be liberally construed "to allow the resolution of litigation on the merits ...


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